INTERIM-BOSS Richard Agar felt returning duo Stevie Ward and Jamie Jones-Buchanan put some of their Leeds Rhinos teammates “to shame” last night.
Both made their comeback from long-term injury in Rhinos’ 20-12 home defeat by Salford Red Devils.
Agar – who is expected to be confirmed as permanent coach – questioned his team’s “puzzling” last tackle plays and though he felt Leeds defended “heroically” at times, some “poor decisions by individuals” cost them any chance of a win.
It was Ward’s first game since he suffered a knee injury in February and Jones-Buchanan, who will retire after next Friday’s vist of Warrington Wolves, had been out of action since May.
“I tip my hat to them, they put a couple of players to shame with their effort after such long layoffs,” Agar said. “It really says a lot about the mentality of those guys.
For us moving forward we have got to capture that mentality and permeate it through the rest of our squad. It’s marvellous to get Wardy back and going so well so early and you know Jonesy is going to put everything on the line for you.Richard Agar
“For us moving forward we have got to capture that mentality and permeate it through the rest of our squad.
“It’s marvellous to get Wardy back and going so well so early and you know Jonesy is going to put everything on the line for you.”
It was Salford’s seventh successive Super League win and Agar said Leeds can learn from last night’s opponents.
“The effort and commitment was there for all to see,” Agar said.
“But we’re disappointed to let 20 points in. Salford showed us the way on that, when you play good teams you have to do it better for longer.”
Significantly, it looked like they wanted it more, in the first half especially. Leeds upped a gear after the break and did most of the pressing, but they lacked the killer punch.
Salford had the first opportunity when Logan Tomkins forced his way over the line from acting-half but knocked on. That came after the ever-dangerous Jackson Hastings had almost cut through, but Jack Walker made the tackle.
Leeds also got over the whitewash without reward through Konrad Hurrell, who was held up after a typically powerful run. They had tapped a kickable penalty in that set, following a high tackle by Kris Welham on Liam Sutcliffe.
That reflected the fact the pressure was off. In a game they needed to win Leeds would probably have taken the two.
It was no surprise when Salford opened the scoring after 22 minutes. Sutcliffe missed Hastings in midfield and the scrum-half – who Leeds were chasing before he opted to join Wigan for next year – put Niall Evalds over.
It was Evalds’s 22nd try of the campaign and moved him level with Leeds’s Ash Hadley at the top of the Super League chart.
Leeds’s problems were illustrated soon afterwards when Trent Merrin was tackled in possession on the last 10 metres out.
Rhinos were penalised in the resulting set and from that Salford increased their lead through Jake Bibby who got on the end of Evalds’s pass after Hastings had handled. Inu booted his second conversion.
Rhinos created very little, but did have a chance seven minutes before the break when Robert Lui supplied Harry Newman and he offloaded to the right wing, but Luke Briscoe had over-run him and the ball went into touch.
Brad Dwyer’s introduction off the bench gave Leeds a lift.
Buoyed by his – and Jones-Buchanan’s enthusiasm – Leeds lifted and halved the deficit with a lovely try; Sutcliffe offloaded to Walker and he put the supporting Richie Myler over.
That was just what the doctor ordered, three minutes before the break, but one of their failings this year – among several – has been an inability to complete the set after they score.
Time and again they have given the momentum away and it happened again. Hurrell knocked on, Dwyer was penalised and Inu took the two.
Leeds created a series of half-chances in the third quarter, being denied a try by a knock-on over the line from a kick by Lui and Myler having the ball stolen as he tried to reach over.
Seumanufagai’s return made a difference and with 25 left he was pulled down just short, Dwyer kicked through from acting-half and Jones-Buchanan touched down. Martin’s second conversion made it a two-point ball game, but Leeds couldn’t kick on.
The hosts muscled up really well in defence and were a finger tip away from snatching a breakaway – and possibly winning – try when Harry Newman agonisingly just failed to hold on to an attempted interception.
That was one of three repeat sets Salford received, but Leeds refused to crack. That might have been a turning point, but an error by Cameron Smith gave Salford another opportunity, the tackle count was wiped a couple of times, rather harshly, and Joey Lussick went over from close range. Inu’s fourth goal sealed it.
Leeds Rhinos: L. Briscoe, Walker, Handley, Hurrell, Newman, Lui, Myler, Oledzki, Lunt, Seumanufagai, Sutcliffe, Martin, Merrin. Substitutes: Jones-Buchanan, Dwyer, Smith, Ward.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu, Lolohea, Hastings, Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy. Substitutes: Flanagan, Lussick, Walker, Burke.
Referee: Liam Moore (RFL)